Visual focus and tracking skills refer to the way a baby holds his/her eye gaze and is able to follow a moving toy or person with his eyes. These are some of the first developmental skills that a newborn learns. These skills are acquired during the first few months of his life.
A baby will first learn to focus on stationary objects or faces. He will then learn how to track a slowly moving object horizontally (side to side), and then vertically (up and down), and then diagonally. Movements will initially be a bit jerky, but with more and more practice, these movements become smoother and more fluid. Once he has begun to master visual focus and tracking, he will begin to attempt to reach out toward your face or toward the object – these will be baby’s next level skills (and my next blog entry!).
To help your baby practice and develop visual focus and tracking skills:
- Smile at him and engage with him from a distance of about 8-12 inches (this is about the distance you would be from each other during feeding time)
- Babies love faces-especially your face! Smile at him and talk to him, or make silly expressions
- You could even hold a mirror for him to look at. It’s fun for babies to look at other baby’s faces
- When your child is first learning how to visually focus and track, it is easiest for him to see high contrast colors and images, like black and white, or black, white, and red.
- Looking at high contrast overhead mobiles while lying on his back, or showing him high contrast books while cradled in your arms are great ways for your baby to practice these skills
- When working on tracking skills, hold a toy about 8-12 inches from his face and once he has found his focus on the object, move it very slowly to the side, come back to midline, and then continue moving it very slowly to the other side. Once he has started to master horizontal tracking, you can try working on tracking vertically (up and down), using the same method of starting from his midline focus and then moving the object slowly up or down
- Most of all, have fun engaging with your baby!